My recent post about simply changing four studs in a saw prompted an exaggerated comment who totally missed the point:
Seeing the hoops you had to jump through makes me glad I spend the extra on a blah, blah, blah saw.“
As I said, he nudged the truth to justify his privileged position to spend a great deal of money on a saw and his comment was of no help at all. to anyone. I can tell you, the saws he spoke of cost £400 and up for a single saw. A prohibitive price for most woodworkers I mix with. Totally unnecessary.
I think that like most of us starting out into something like woodworking we often seek out someone to give us advice who has experience at some level. Ask ten woodworkers ‘in the know’ the same question and you’ll likely get one answer: Buy lots of so-called power tools, you need a tablesaw, a jointer planer, thickness planer, bandsaw, chopsaw, radial arm saw, mortise machine, power router battery this and battery that and then all the related support equipment be that the Biesmeyer fence system or a roller-bearing, take-off support table, etc, etc. £10,000 should do it.
Bemused, you might be forgiven for thinking, ‘Whoah! This coffee table is going to be pretty expensive.‘ But today it can also be the same with hand tools too. After all, how often do you hear, “You get what you pay for.”? And I do tire of people saying things like, “My old man always taught me to pay the extra and buy the best I can afford. That way you’ll only buy it once instead of several times over.” Often it’s the richer who can afford the higher and they too can be guilty of ‘wearing their wealth for all to see‘ albeit in a shelf full of expensive planes and saws. Of course, there is nothing wrong with owning finely engineered and pricey tools. I enjoy owning some rarities and scarcities. I like seeing hand-sewn suits on the well dressed, but it’s the tailor and his work I admire, not the suited schill wearing it.
I thought that this explanation might help some to understand a little and perhaps a rethink too. Of course, it is different saw strokes for different saw folks. For some people, the price would not be considered but for others, the price would indeed be highly prohibitive, and that includes me. I have posted on the inexpensive Spear & Jackson over the years because regardless of who Spear & Jackson are or what they do, they gave us a top functioning saw at a very good price. Most people can afford to buy a saw and one that I have endorsed takes out the risk and possible embarrassment. I think that it is important to consider one’s self in the position of others. For instance, if you have never done any woodworking in your life before, and you want to get started, someone asking for advice from this person would likely be told to go out and buy about £1,700 worth of handsaws before she or he even knows if she or he even likes woodworking. Now that is what I call a big “hoop to jump through”, not replacing a few screws and caps by drilling a few holes or even reshaping and redefining and refining a handle to a handsaw as more a whim on my part than an actual necessity. But this problem gets markedly bigger if you are only earning what in the UK is called a ‘living wage’. A living wage is around £15,400 a year, and when you have two children, perhaps a spouse to support, a mortgage to pay and so on. Think about it. And this kind of thinking happens across the board with many suggesting going out and buying £10,000 worth of machinery just to start woodworking, yet all they wanted to do was make a few pieces of furniture. Let me explain further: I am glad people enjoy the privilege of owning expensive tools that they like owning, I have some pieces myself, but that really isn’t the point of the blogpost I put out and nor should anyone feel sorry for those who could never afford to spend as much as they did on what is, when all is said and done, just another handsaw. I didn’t jump through any hoops at any time, I just got on with what I actually really wanted to do and that was improve a saw. Changing the studs took me around 20 minutes. Not exactly ‘hoop-jumping‘, not in and woodworker’s world, anyway.
No, you see I took a saw some years ago, tried it, quite liked it, and thought, this is really affordable and it already cuts quite well. I wanted to be a resource for those looking to find a decent saw. I wanted to use it, improve it, I persevered with it, transformed it, I totally succeeded! More than that, I now have a really good, reliable saw and I totally enjoyed bringing it up to speed. My hope is that hundreds if not thousands long term will follow my example and not just give in. Most of my audience are doers and like to do things for themselves. They’re looking to improve things all around them all the time and they could never afford nor perhaps even want to spend £400 to £440 on what at the end of the day is really just a nice handsaw. Paying around twenty times higher in price makes it prohibitive for most people to get into woodworking. Magnify that three or four times to buy four or more likely five saws, as I might suggest people have, makes £1,500 a particularly high price tag.
I have expressed my rejection of extra-heavy planes over the years, they are mostly unnecessary, overweight and then overvalued too in more than one way. That said, the makers of so-called premium tools are maxed out in production so the demand is there and I am glad. I have used a common Stanley #4 bench plane for hours a day for 55 years and that’s six days a week. I have also used a #4 1/2 Stanley the same way and replaced these planes with around six new irons even though I rarely if ever grind them on an electric grinder. When you use a plane as much as I have, hundreds of thousands of hours, I suppose, you see things much differently. You look for something more suited to the task and indeed pick them from your personal experience. My experience tells me that there is no new plane and no new maker in the last 40 years that gives me any more than the Stanley I bought when I was 15 years old and still use today. I really enjoy using something a little lighter, even less well engineered and of course less in weight. I have accumulated far less poundage in extra baggage over the years just in planing up board surfaces and such.
I liken heavy planes to the steady plodding of say a working draft horse, a mule too, even. The Stanley version of the same plane is more like a lightweight Arabian gelding, something that can spin on a sixpenny piece or a dime. I flip, twist, spin and switch my plane many times in a given hour to achieve my objectives. This is important to me and it will become more important to you as you progress in developing skills and techniques in the use of hand planes. Not so easy a quick exchange with the heavyweight versions that can look quite nice but are more clunkish in the hand and at the work.
If you do watch me working you will have seen that in a decade I have reached for little more than my very ordinary, plain Stanley #4 bench plane and a Stanley #5. All of my planing work includes surfacing rough-sawn boards all the way through to every kind of trimming fine edges for fitting doors, drawers and such come from the standard thin irons with no retrofits anywhere. Not only do they do the work but they work exceptionally well. You need only a Stanley #4 for 95-99% of hand planing work; or a Record #4. A #3 works really well too, especially for the smaller in stature and weight, small hands and such.
I have said similar things about saws too. Rarely do you need more than a decent secondhand vintage Spear & Jackson or a Disston (not those made in Canada from the 1960s on. Not one and the same saw as Philly Disston at all. Junk, really.). These secondhand saws should cost no more than say around £30 or so but I just looked and you could buy an unrestored one for as little as £15 or totally restored one for around £60 or so. Currently, eBay has on offer 962 results just for Disstons alone so bags to choose from and learn on. Of course, the early British makers of old, like S&J, are every bit as good and in many cases better than Henry Disston’s, so in this country and the mainland European countries you can buy British makes more readily. Oh, and if you bought one of these they would likely last you throughout 70 years or more of daily handwork. No modern make will do any more than this and of course, the modern S&J will do just that too.